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The Actors Company Theatre Presents T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party" at the Beckett Theatre
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The Actors Company Theatre Presents T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party" at the Beckett Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Salon Ziba

200 West 57th Street
New York, NY
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TACT/The Actors Company Theatre
(TACT Website)

The Cocktail Party

By T.S. Eliot
(T.S. Eliot Bio)
Directed by Scott Alan Evans

At the
Beckett Theatre
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street

Mark Alhadeff as Alexander MacColgie Gibbs
Cynthia Harris as Julia Shuttlethwaite
Jeremy Beck as Peter Quilpe
Lauren English as Celia Coplestone
Simon Jones as an Unidentified Guest
Jack Koenig as Edward Chamberlayne
Erika Rolfsrud as Lavinia Chamberlayne
Celia Smith as Miss Barraway
Ben Beckley as Caterer’s Man

Scenic Design: Andrew Lieberman & Laura Jellinek
Costume Design: David Toser
Lighting Design: Aaron Copp
Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff & Daniel Kluger
Music: Joseph Trapanese
Production Stage Manager: Meredith Dixon
Asst. Stage Manager: Kelsey Daye Lutz
Asst. Director: Andrew Block
Casting: Stephanie Klapper
TACT General Manager: Cathy Bencivenga
TACT Assoc. Producer: Jenn Thompson
Press: O & M Co.
Production Manager: Joshua Scherr
Props by Lily Fairbanks

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 2, 2010

T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party should be seen twice; once to listen to the elegant, rhythmic dialogue, and once to follow the somewhat obscure and religiously esoteric symbolism. I saw it only once, but the witty parlor banter, the Lieberman-Jellinek, gray paneled set, David Toser’s late 40’s stylish costumes, and the very mysterious guest kept me quite immersed. This almost three-hour play was written 60 years ago, and it’s been 40 years since it was last seen in New York. TACT/The Actors Company Theatre is so talented that two of its Artistic Director were actually cast in the play – Simon Jones, as An Uninvited Guest, and Cynthia Harris, as Julia Shuttlethwaite. T. S. Eliot wrote this play in verse, but the ensemble persuasively enacted their roles in natural, seamless manner. Eliot’s many allusions and references to Christianity, sacrifice, and psychology were so dramatically interwoven, that the audience is intellectually transported, as well as cleverly entertained.

Included in this three-hour production are two cocktail parties and a psychiatric consultation. The first party seems cheerful enough, until you realize the hostess is missing. Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne, married several years, had invited guests to their London flat, but decided to separate, just prior to the party. Edward, a very handsome Jack Koenig, looks very distracted and makes one excuse after the other for Lavinia (Erika Rolfsrud), who’s “caring for a sick relative”. The younger Celia Coplestone (Lauren English) is, however, very much at the party and very much in Edward’s life. Julia Shuttlethwaite (Cynthia Harris), an extroverted friend, and Alexander MacColgie Gibbs (Mark Alhadeff), a man who travels widely, keep the repartee rapid and the topics savvy. Peter Quilpe (Jeremy Beck), also in attendance, has new Hollywood roots. The Uninvited Guest, mysterious and opaque, morphs into a manipulative mastermind, who restructures this puzzle of people. When Lavinia returns, and she and Edward, her wayward barrister husband, face each other fully, divorce becomes a concept, more than a reality.

There are humorous moments, such as cooking with what’s available in the post-party kitchen, and there are poignant moments, such as Celia’s sacrificial fate. There’s talk of Africa, and talk of martinis, there’s betrayal, and there’s accommodation. Scott Alan Evans, Director, has the task of keeping meandering monologues engaging and tragic illuminations nonchalant. He masters his task well. I stayed for the Talk-Back, and Frances Sternhagen, who had the role of Lavinia, when this play was revived on Broadway in 1968, joined by Patricia Conolly, who had been Celia, discussed the way in which they had explored the characters’ relationships, although there wasn’t much discussion of “feelings” in 1968. That revival had a brief run at the Lyceum.

Jeremy Beck, Cynthia Harris, Simon Jones,
Lauren English, Mark Alhadeff ,
Jack Koenig in T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Simon Jones and Jack Koenig
in T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Erika Rolfsrud and Jack Koenig
in T.S. Eliot's "The Cocktail Party"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at